In Review

Six Nations 2016: a new start for England after World Cup

What have the northern hemisphere teams learned from last year's disappointing World Cup performances?

The 2015 Rugby World Cup was a roaring success. More competitive than any other previous tournament, it saw the greatest shock in Test match history with Japan's win over South Africa and a dazzling final between victors New Zealand and the gallant Australians. The only downside for the record number of fans was the poor rugby played by the European countries.

For the first time none of the Six Nations sides reached the semi-final and New Zealand's 62-13 humiliation of France in the quarter-final encapsulated the gulf between the northern and southern hemispheres.

The 2016 Six Nations offers Europe the chance to prove that the rugby in this part of the world isn't so bad.

Scotland vs England

The most intriguing fixture of the opening weekend is the 134th Calcutta Cup match between Scotland and England on Saturday evening. The men in white have won 69 times to Scotland's 39 and it's eight years since they last lost in this fixture. This season, however, the Scots fancy their chances.

They alone of the Home Nations emerged with credit from the World Cup with only a highly controversial refereeing decision in the last moments of their quarter-final against Australia denying them a famous win.

Kiwi coach Vern Cotter has proved an astute selector and a canny tactician in his 18 months in charge, and he'll be emphasising to his players the importance of a strong start against an England side looking to rebuild its reputation after a disastrous World Cup.

The failure to make it out of the pool for the first time in a World Cup cost coach Stuart Lancaster and his assistants their jobs, and ushered in Aussie Eddie Jones as the new man in charge. One of his first appointments was to replace Chris Robshaw with Dyan Hartley as captain.

But Jones has resisted the urge to make wholesale changes to the squad, aware that a trip to Edinburgh is not for wet-behind-the-ears youngsters.

The England starting XV contains 512 caps, and some very big men such as Billy Vunipola and Joe Launchbury. "Our mission is to go up there and win the Calcutta Cup," said Jones when asked why he'd opted for experience over youth. "This is not about giving people opportunities, it's about winning Test matches."

Jones, who was in charge of Australia when they lost the 2003 World Cup final to England, is an arch pragmatist and a man not afraid to make controversial calls. Many in the media and the public have been clamouring for a clean-out in the wake of the World Cup, but Jones clearly believes that England's failings in recent years have been more about poor coaches than poor players.

“I'm not looking at a different England team," he told reporters. "I started two months ago with a clean sheet of paper. I've selected a team to play a certain way against Scotland. We know that Murrayfield will be a tough old affair - it always is."

Ireland vs Wales

The two most consistent teams in the northern hemisphere meet in Dublin on Sunday. Ireland and Wales have won the last four editions of the tournament and are the teams most likely to do so again.

In last season's tournament only a 23-16 defeat to Wales in Cardiff prevented the Irish clinching their third Grand Slam, but Joe Schmidt's side still took the title on points difference over England and Wales.

Wales will field a vastly experienced side with their replacements' bench alone boasting boast 364 caps. "We are excited by the make-up of the squad, it's very experienced along with one eye looking to the future," said coach Warren Gatland.

The Welsh did well to reach the World Cup quarter-finals given their horrendous catalogue of injuries last autumn, and while full-back Leigh Halfpenny and scrum-half Rhys Webbs are still sidelined, they do welcome back Jonathan Davies in the centre to partner the formidable presence of Jamie Roberts.

The last time the two sides met was in a World Cup warm-up last August in Dublin. Wales won 16-10 and they should just edge it again on Sunday with the Irish no longer able to call on the services of their talismanic lock Paul O'Connell (who's retired from Test rugby), while fly-half Jonathan Sexton has struggled for consistency this season.

France vs Italy

France, who get the tournament underway by hosting Italy in Paris on Saturday afternoon, have a new coach in Guy Noves and also a new captain in Guilhem Guirado.

Noves and his Italian counterpart, Jacques Brunel, are both 62 but despite their advanced years they've put their trust in youth for tomorrow's encounter with France naming a 23-man squad containing seven new caps and the visitors fielding a starting XV with four fresh faces.

France beat Italy 29-0 in Rome in last year's tournament and they should be too strong for Italy tomorrow in a match that will, as The Guardian notes, be surrounded by unprecedented levels of security for a sporting event in France.

The last time a sporting fixture was staged at the Stade de France, it was targeted by an Islamic State suicide squad. Though none of the bombers accessed the stadium during the France vs Germany football international they blew themselves up outside, the force of the explosions rocking the stadium and killing a passer-by.


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